Hating Bolivia and the pretentiousness of travellers

So, I hated Bolivia. I spent a grand total of 15 days there this summer, and honestly, I was looking forward to it more than pretty much any other country I visited in South America. When I got there, however, I had probably the worst time I’ve ever, ever had whilst travelling. Why? Well, a culmination of things. A sad and bitter culmination of many, many things.

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Number one? It was cold. Like, freezing. It snowed in Copacabana. I was wearing flip flops. The people were unfriendly and unwelcoming… no one had any time for anyone. Even if you were paying them to have time for you (tour operators I mean… not… escorts, as that may seem to imply). The cities were dirty and lacking in any real excitement. EVERYWHERE WAS HIGH – so I constantly felt nauseous and altitude-y The food was diabolical, which leads me to the next point of disdain; I got very, very sick. Not fun being hungry, not being able to keep down a bite and hating the place you’re at.  It’s not as cheap as everyone says, the main attractions are super expensive. It’s hard to get around. It’s dangerous. Oh, and I broke up with my boyfriend that I went travelling with. So yeah… I didn’t have a very good time.

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Now, maybe, just maybe, I didn’t give Bolivia enough of a chance. I mean, I was sick and I was sad for the whole time, so of course that contributes to my overall experience… but regardless of these things, all of the above points still stand. I just didn’t like it.

As a backpacker, this opinion wasn’t really taken lightly to. Apparently in the liberal-minded, freedom-orientated sphere of backpacking, it’s unacceptable to have an opinion of a relatively unfrequented destination that is negative. If it’s saturated with tourists, then sure, bitch and moan about it all you want. Too many people? Totally. Soooo unauthentic? Of course. Trashy and a bit boring? I ABSOLUTELY KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN.

When it comes to roads less travelled, however, especially when that road less travelled is unpaved, riddled with potholes, home to armed robbers, with dodgy, poisonous food, undrinkable water and, ultimately, representative of a poverty stricken country with many deep rooted problems… then your opinion better only be about the amazing things you experienced while travelling there and how rewarding and enlightening the whole thing was.

Ugh. I call bullshit. Sat in the middle of a busy, backpacker bar in Uyuni – the only busy bar in town, in fact – awaiting to go on our Salt Flats tour the next day, this theory was never made more clear. Talking about what a bad time I’d had so far, a girl sat at the same table as me tutted, shook her head and looked away. As if she was disgusted by my anti-Bolivia comments. Then, her friend chipped in: “You only don’t like it because it’s a poor, undeveloped country.”

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Erm, excuse me? An insinuation that I, basically, wasn’t a ‘real’ traveller and that I should probably have stuck to the wealthy Western destinations I was so obviously accustomed to did not sit well with me. Not well at all. I’ve travelled all over the world – to some of the poorest countries, to some of the richest. My opinion on the destination is not based upon their economic position. It’s based on the people, the landscapes, the sights, the food, the culture. Inescapably, economic issues ultimately affect all of these things, but discomfort and lack of luxury is not something that bothers me. So why was I being made to feel like some spoiled little English rich girl that just cannot deal with the unsightly elements of Bolivia?

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Because, even with travellers – people who are often some of the most open minded, interesting and intelligent people in the whole world – also house a little prejudice and can be very, very judgmental. That’s alright. But, come on. It’s okay to not like somewhere, people. It doesn’t make you a more accepting, cultural person if you struggle through shit things and pretend that you love it. It just makes you a little bit pretentious… not the crowning embodiment of authenticity and adventure. So ner. 

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6 Comments

  1. Not a gypsy...

    It can’t snow in Copacabana!? Barry Manilow mentioned no such attrocities!! haha. Sorry you hated it. Bolivia came up in a pub quiz I was at the other day – “WHERE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ROAD IN ALL THE WORLD?” So turns out it really isn’t all sunshine and fun travelling.

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  2. Bec J. H.

    I totally agree that disliking a place is an acceptable thing to do if you have a bad experience, or even if you just don’t enjoy it for whatever reason. Pretentious travellers are very frustrating. I hope your travels improved post-Bolivia!

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  3. Carlos

    You are completely free to hate any place, after all we all have different tastes. However, some of your complaints are just ludicrous. Examples:

    1. “Number one? It was cold. Like, freezing. It snowed in Copacabana”: You could have just researched the weather (as I think most people do before visiting a place). Did you expect Copacabana Bolivia to be just like its Brazilian counterpart?
    2. “EVERYWHERE WAS HIGH – so I constantly felt nauseous and altitude-y”: Again, this is entirely your fault for not reading up on your destination and preparing accordingly. If you have problems with high altitude, you should’ve avoided western Bolivia!
    3. Roads that are “home to armed robbers”: Seriously. Spent a fair amount of time in Bolivia and visited most South American countries. In terms of actual risk of facing armed robbery, Bolivia is one of the safest countries in the region! Not sure what happened to you, and I am sorry if you faced that situation, but statistically speaking, there’s far more dangerous countries in South America.

    Maybe you could be a little more reasonable with your criticism, and that would stop people from responding in a “pretentious” manner to you. Just a suggestion.

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    1. gemmafottles

      Wow, Carlos. Calm down? This is my very, very personal opinion. It is not ludicrous to dislike a place because of the weather, neither is my disdain for altitude. Whether this was researched thoroughly or not, I would have still heavily disliked these two elements, which collectively dampened my experience.

      In regards to the issue of safety, now you are the one being ludicrous. I laughed a little at the ludicrousness.

      Everyone is entitled to have as strong – or as politically correct and ultimately mind-numbingly boring – opinion as they wish. This isn’t Lonely Planet, I’m sure that my words will not sway people from visiting Bolivia.

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